Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Waste not, want not. Happy Earth Day!

So I was watching Oprah the other day (thanks DVR) – and the subject was about families that create great amounts of personal waste. Waste in all forms – garbage, power, food, consumerism, etc. The show was obviously produced to encourage other “average” Americans to evaluate their living standards and see what they can do to cut back on excessive waste. I went into it thinking that the families that were picked were going to be extreme cases – but as the show went on we learned that, in fact, they are pretty average.

In one case a family of five was creating 4 entirely different dinners. Now, in theory I have no real problem with this – if they were making the meals individual sizes. But, instead the mother was cooking and entire box of pasta for her son – and throwing out the rest. An entire box (I just checked) is 7 servings. First of all – why cook it all – and if you do – why throw it out? The family then goes to the grocery store and buys it all over again. This was just the tip of the iceberg – they cranked the heat up to 82, they left all sorts of lights and devices on. It was fantastically ridiculous. To their credit – they also thought it was ridiculous and they did make enormous improvements in their lifestyle.

Another family that was spotlighted was dealing with similar issues – but the thing that stuck out the most with the second family was the amount of time they let their five-year-old play video games. He played roughly 3-5 hours a day. A DAY! This family also made dramatic changes for the better after living through an experiment that involved giving things up/trying not to waste so much.

As vain and as superficial as I might be about myself – in most circumstances I try not to judge. Certainly in the case of my students (where it is my job to judge their work) I judge but I try to be constructive about it – and I try to stay on task (don’t believe a word that my co-workers say to the contrary). Looking at these families, in my heart of hearts I know that they need to just work through their issues and I should not condemn them. However, we are sharing the same planet and dipping from the same resource pool. If these families represent a “normal” slice of America, it’s no wonder we’re screwed as a nation and as a planet.

I will make no claims that we are perfect in our house – as a matter of fact I can list things that we need to be better about. That being said – I feel like all the good things that I do are just negated by the “everyday” actions of those around me. This is where I get on my high horse – so if you don’t want to read, stop now.

Let’s start with the actual house. There are only two of us (and a little white dog) so we don’t need a lot of room. That being said, in the event that we start a family, there is plenty of room in this house to do so – at roughly 1800 square feet, three bedrooms and two bathrooms, there is more than ample space. The house is also an older home. It was built in the early 60’s. We looked at a few new and newer homes – but when push comes to shove – isn’t it better to use what is already there? The materials that we have used to fix this house and make it not only livable, but also attractive are far fewer than what it would take to make an all new house. Additionally, all of our appliances are “energy star” and most of our utilities are as well. The improvements to be made there are with the type of water heater and water softener that we have. So – once we can afford to change those and/or something goes wrong with the ones we have – we will. I’d also love to convert the house to at least partial solar power – but I feel like there is still a lot of other work before I drop the expense on that.

Inside the house we have some halogen lights – so those use halogen bulbs. However, in most places we try to use CFLs. Sure, they’re not perfect with their mercury lined interiors – but they are certainly more efficient than a regular incandescent, and the color is good now. Ideally, LED technology will be all figured out within a year – but that stuff is not really fully available to the consumer market.

We use cloth napkins and wash EVERYTHING in COLD/COLD on the washer. It works the same, folks. We recycle everything that we can – although our curbside has recently changed what all they pick up (now they take less). Still, we produce approximately one kitchen size bag of trash every other week. We do NOT compost, but we don’t really have anything to compost. Most of our food is eaten the first time or as leftovers.

Neither of us smokes or has a Starbucks habit – so we aren’t producing a lot of consumer waste that way. I tend to eat out for lunch once, maybe twice a week – but again – I am careful to recycle what I can from those meals (bottles, etc).

The question is, does it matter? When a majority of the people around me are so cavalier about these things, does it matter what I do? At my place of employment I frequently see people throwing away recyclables – not even things that are hard to recycle – they are throwing away bottles and cans. Does the school need more bins? Would it matter – it seems to happen that way even if the trash can is next to the recycle bin. While I appreciate that you are not littering – I’d almost rather have you throw you trash on the ground so that I don’t have to dig through the rubbish bin after you to save your recycling.

I routinely see all sorts of lights and equipment left on. And, while I realize that there are safety codes for buildings, is there any reason that they have to look like shopping centers at night? Why are there so many emergency lights? The problems that I see are not limited to students – they are just as prevalent in the faculty and staff. That means that some of my colleagues aren’t even trying to set an example – unless the example is “how to kill the planet.”

I would like to reiterate that I do not do everything perfectly. I still have plenty of room to grow – and I push myself everyday. These past few weeks we have been purging our lives and trying to remove things that are overcomplicating and crowding our home and lifestyle. I know that the little things add up – but I feel like we need big change.

How long do we passively do this? I don’t want to be a jerk and get in faces – but somebody has to, right? Otherwise our entire nation will continue to deplete all our resources and seemingly not care. Or at least not care until it is too late. We can ban smoking – but we cannot ban SUVs? We can enforce all sorts of laws (some ridiculous) – but we cannot get people to recycle? It’s just dumb.

Happy Earth Day!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

G. Richard: Excellent post. None of us does enough, but at least in our little circle, things are better (e.g., less wasteful) than they were. Major changes will likely require technological or engineering breakthroughs, but changing day to day living habits surely must help. Keep plugging.